Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR, is a curious phenomenon. Those who experience it often characterise it as a tingling sensation in the back of the head or neck, or another part of the body, in response to some sort of sensory stimulus. That stimulus could be anything, but over the past few years, a subculture has developed around YouTube videos, and their growing popularity was the focus of a video posted on the Guardian this last week. It’s well worth a watch, but I couldn’t help but feel it would have been a bit more interesting if there had been some scientific background in it. The trouble is, there isn’t actually much research on ASMR out there.
Have you ever had a pleasing reaction to something but were unable to articulate how it makes you feel because it makes absolutely no sense? For example, I love the smell of freshly opened tennis balls. I am fully aware that the smell shouldn’t be great, it’s hardly enticing on paper. If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s a musky, muddy, petroleum, rubbery odor. Sounds great, huh? Interestingly, there is a fraction of the population who, like me, loves this smell.
A study done by Google, the parent company of YouTube states, ASMR videos are mostly watched by people between the ages of 18 and 24. Osbourn has noticed this trend and thinks there’s a correlation with mental health. “Our generation is more open to talking about mental health, we are so much more aware of ‘I’m struggling mentally, and I need help, and I’m going to find the help that I need,’ than any other generation, in my opinion,” she said.
Many of those who experience ASMR report that some specific non-vocal ambient noises are also effective triggers of ASMR, including those like the sound of rain, fingers scratching or tapping a surface, the crushing of eggshells, the crinkling and crumpling of a flexible material such as paper, or writing. Many YouTube videos that are intended to trigger ASMR responses capture a single person performing these actions and the sounds that result.